THE Royal Navy was believed to be shadowing at least one Russian naval vessel off the coast of Scotland last night after it sailed near the Moray Firth while on exercise in the North Sea.
The Baltic Fleet vessel is believed to be a warship and was part of an operation being carried out in the area. It was described by a source as a “Russian Task Group”, suggesting more than one ship may have been involved. The Ministry of Defence would not comment on the incident or on whether the Russians had entered British territorial waters, which stretches out around 14 miles from the coast, although it was thought to be unlikely.
A Royal Navy vessel was thought to be deployed from the south coast of England to shadow the Russian ship.
It follows a similar incident in December 2011 when several ships from the Baltic Fleet arrived 30 miles off the Moray Firth, including the huge aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the anti-submarine warfare ship Admiral Chabanenko and escort the Yaroslav Mudryy.
The Russian military news agency Interfax-AVN reported at the time that the fleet was on route to Syria and took shelter in the Moray Firth when faced with deteriorating weather conditions. However, some commentators believe that the country is testing Britain’s response times to such an incursion.
The 2011 incident was the first time a vessel the size of the 65,000-tonne Kuznetsov had deployed near UK waters and the closest a Russian task force had sailed to the UK in two decades, according to the minutes of a parliamentary debate on the subject this month.
That incident also saw ships allegedly dumping food waste into the water, which although allowed when more than 12 miles offshore, was described by one local MP as “fly-tipping” and “bad manners”.
The SNP has been critical of the scrapping of the Nimrod fleet, leaving the UK with no dedicated maritime patrol aircraft. The party also highlighted the fact that there are no warships based in Scotland to respond to such an incident.
Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster and MP for Moray, said last night: “This is just the latest example illustrating the unacceptable priority the UK government gives to northern defence and security.
“The RAF has no maritime patrol aircraft and the Royal Navy has no conventional ocean-going vessels based in Scotland. These capabilities are essential to properly managing northern security matters. After a Yes vote in 2014 Scotland will join our northern European neighbours like Norway and Denmark who take these challenges seriously and which will to be to the benefit to all in north Europe, including the rest of the UK.”
In May 2007, Tornado F3 jets from RAF Leuchars in Fife were sent to intercept two Russian aircraft spotted observing a Royal Navy exercise over the Western Isles.
They were identified as Tupolev Tu-142 Bear Foxtrot planes, commonly seen by RAF pilots during the Cold War and which feature in the Tom Clancy thriller The Hunt For Red October.
The Russian aircraft were escorted from the area by the RAF, who said no radio contact took place between the pilots, before returning to their base in Murmansk.